WASHINGTON - APRIL 28: Jaroslav Halak #41 of the Montreal Canadiens celebrates as Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals skates away following the Canadiens 2-1 win in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Verizon Center on April 28, 2010 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Immediately after the Montreal Canadiens eliminated Washington, recrimination began.  Given the way NHL reporting works, it was inevitable that Alexander Ovechkin – the same guy who scored five goals and added five assists in the seven games against Montreal – would pick up some of that flack.  And, given the way NHL reporting works, it was also inevitable that some of that flack would come via the Ovechkin vs. Sidney Crosby spectrum.

Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun wrote that Washington’s loss had ended the 1/1A relationship between the two players, and that Crosby was now number one and Ovechkin clearly number two.  He also explained that, despite gaudy totals, character was the difference between the two:

For Ovechkin to get back into the race that matters — the one for the Cup — he can’t continue to have year after year of heartbreaking endings. This is three straight Game 7 home defeats for his Capitals. Some of that — how much, you can debate — has to fall on him. Yes, he has 20 goals in 28 playoff games, and those are crazy numbers. But there is that fine line between individual performance and making your team better.

Ovechkin, the older of the two, appears less mature than Crosby, less grounded, more individualistic. His way of bringing his team back is to take a two-minute shift and do it himself. That may work in February in Tampa but it hasn’t worked in April in Washington.

I wonder, now that Crosby’s Penguins have suffered the same seven game defeat at the hands of those Canadiens, if Simmons finds his opinion of those two players shifting a little bit, particularly since Ovechkin’s performance against those Canadiens was superior to Crosby’s while the team results were the same.

Game by game, here’s how the NHL’s two premiere talents compared.  First, Ovechkin’s performance:

Game Result Goals Assists Points +/- TOI Shots
One Loss 0 0 0 0 26:26 0
Two Win 1 3 4 3 20:22 6
Three Win 1 0 1 1 19:51 1
Four Win 2 1 3 3 21:10 3
Five Loss 1 0 1 -1 24:47 6
Six Loss 0 0 0 -1 25:34 8
Seven Loss 0 1 1 0 23:35 10
Totals 3-4 5 5 10 5 Avg. 23:06 34

 

Compare that with Crosby’s performance:

Game Result Goals Assists Points +/- TOI Shots
One Win 0 2 2 1 21:08 1
Two Loss 0 0 0 -2 24:30 1
Three Win 0 0 0 1 22:17 1
Four Win 0 1 1 0 22:15 5
Five Loss 0 0 0 0 20:33 1
Six Loss 1 1 2 1 26:10 3
Seven Loss 0 0 0 -2 28:56 5
Totals 3-4 1 4 5 -1 Avg. 23:41 17

 

With less ice-time, Ovechkin scored four more goals, doubled Crosby’s point totals, and finished six higher on the plus/minus scale, and fired twice as many shots at Jaroslav Halak.

Of course, that performance doesn’t make Ovechkin a better player than Crosby, any more than a Penguins victory over the Canadiens would have marked Crosby as a superior player.  In the latter case, we’d be judging individuals by the actions of their teams – hanging the plays of 20 or so other players on the shoulders of one guy, and extrapolating that one player’s character by those actions.  It’s an idiotic notion.  In the former case, we’re judging two of the best players in the game on their actions over a very short period of time – games totalling less than nine percent of the regular season.

The fact is that they’re two phenomenal players, and despite completely different styles their on-ice impact is highly comparable.  And as much as some columnists would like to reduce the comparison to ‘who has more cups?’ that question is a cop out.  The reality is much more complex, and deserves a more nuanced approach. 

And I’m not the only one picking on this theme; Bruce Arthur’s column for the National Post is worth a read.